Category Archives: moments

Ethics of (e)research

one-day course for PhD students, post-doctoral and other researchers, organized by the Virtual Knowledge Studio in collaboration with the KNAW, and inspired by the June Plenary.

Date and location: Monday 15 June 2009, at the KNAW, Trippenhuis, Amsterdam.

In this one-day event, participants will have the opportunity to examine their own research practices from an ethical perspective and to learn about current approaches to research ethics.

The workshop will enable researchers to identify and analyze ethical issues that arise in the course of their own research, whether relating to empirical material and sources, to analysis or to publication and dissemination. They will also become familiar with a range of mechanisms that support ethical research practices (codes of conduct, consent forms, ethical audits, etc.). The workshop will contribute to the development of skills to deal with ethical dilemmas and increase researchers’ confidence in undertaking research in novel settings or using new tools.

Such a workshop is especially timely because the ethical dimensions of research are receiving more attention from national and transnational funding agencies and professional associations for a number of reasons, including:

  • greater accountability of researchers
  • pressure from funders to increase scale and disciplinary breadth of research teams;
  • Ethical’ turn in social science and humanities, following the linguistic and cultural turns;
  • Rise of ethical approval committees, moving beyond the medical sciences into other disciplines;
  • Increased presence of new media in research and communication;
  • Increased availability of data arising from mundane social practices; Creation of new research infrastructures and tools

New technologies not only raise new ethical questions; they also bring into relief some very old ones regarding, for example, respect for the confidentiality of research participants. Similarly, greater internationalisation and interdisciplinarity also raise both new and old issues, as different national and disciplinary cultures have different traditions of both defining and dealing with research ethics. For example, universities in the US and Canada have a strong tradition of ethical review, with all research projects involving human subjects – regardless of discipline – being required to obtain institutional approval prior to research commencing.

In European countries, such procedures often only apply to medical and psychological research. The standards of medical research, about informed consent and doing no harm, are not always relevant in social sciences and humanities. Humanities and social sciences differ in their view of people not only from medical sciences but also from each other. For example, for humanities scholars, people producing (online) texts should best be regarded as authors, with the result that they should simply be cited as any other author. For a social scientist, the very same people may be regarded as ‘respondents’ and then issues of consent and confidentiality become more salient.

In the UK, recipients of research council funding are normally expected to deposit all data in a public archive; in the US and Canada, similar data would have to be destroyed after five years. The imposition of ethical review procedures may also have implications for what styles of research are favoured. Most formal review procedures require the production of research instruments as part of the process, instruments which may then need further approval if they are changed. This may work for research using positivistic research designs, but would be very cumbersome for more interpretative research designs which rely on the identification and pursuit of emergent phenomena. Clearly, as research becomes ever more international and interdisciplinary, all of these issues will become urgent. This one-day workshop will orient researchers to these discussions as well as develop their ability to deal with dilemmas faced in research.

Provisional timetable


Arrival & coffee


Introductions & ethics quiz


Brief lecture outlining history & practice of research ethics in the Netherlands




Discussion of research dilemmas




Discussion of sample US/Canadian-style ethical clearance form


Concluding remarks


Borrel followed by dinner

Work to be done in advance by participants:

Complete ethical clearance form and write one page about past or current dilemma.

Time and location: 10-18.30 (followed by dinner), Monday 15 June 2009, at the Trippenhuis, Kloveniersburgwal 29, Amsterdam. More travel information at

Registration: Please contact Anja de Haas ( to register. Deadline for registration is 8 May 2009.

Cost: €50, includes participation, course materials, lunch and breaks; or €75, also including dinner

Number of participants: maximum 16, to ensure a discussion-oriented format

Contact : Prof. S. Wyatt ( or Dr. A. Beaulieu (

In The Game: Ethnographic relationships, mediation and knowledge

A pre-conference workshop was held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The workshop was set up around work in progress on the topic of ethnographic relationships, as articulated in the call for papers (see VKS website).

names mosaic

names mosaic

Contributions were structured around the way research relations in ethnography are being reconfigured in terms of the themes of contiguity, accountability, affectivity & embodiment, and scholarly practices. All participants had submitted papers in progress, and these were circulated ahead of the workshop. Hanna Wirman acted as reporter for the event, setting up a blog and documenting it textually and photographically. Each paper was discussed for half an hour, beginning with the comments of an assigned respondent, followed by general discussion. The exchanges that ensued were marked by a high level of engagement, and participants enjoyed the detailed and in-depth feedback they each received from the respondents and participants. The discussions of papers were critical, yet the mood was very supportive, and debates around several themes that cut across papers evolved over the course of the day. The workshop ended with a wonderful dinner in town for all participants, where conversation continued.

Much more about this event can be found at

Ethno Reading Group Meeting

Although it’s been quiet on the blog, rather a lot has been happening lately, ethnography-wise, and I’m hoping to write some more about these many developments in the coming days.

But looking ahead for now… A few of us will be meeting on 20 November to pursue the ethno reading group activities we started last spring. We’ll discuss Coming of Age on this occasion.

Interestingly, this social science book was reviewed in Nature, (review provided courtesy of Tom Boellstorff).

Countdown to ‘In the Game’!

In two weeks, we will be meeting in Copenhagen to discuss ethnographic relationships and knowledge–and to exchange about a whole slew of articles and chapters ‘in progress’. The workshop is closed, but we will have two active ‘reporters’ walking around and mediating the proceedings, so some of the day’s insights will also be made public in various forms. Here is a link to the poster: inthegameposterbig.

Bikes, originally uploaded by Alfred Nerstu.

Now an Anthropologist!

Dina Friis, visitor to the VKS from December to July 2008, obtained her
Master’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Aarhus on 26
August 2008. As part of the requirements for her degree, she submitted a
dissertation entitled ‘The Dilemma of Standardisation versus Local
Adaptation in Electronic Patient Records.’ This piece of work tackles
arduous methodological and theoretical issues about the study of complex
technological objects in-the-making, such as software and
infrastructures. It will not come as a surprise to those who heard and
discussed with Dina during her stay that she obtained the highest
possible grade for this piece of research.

Andreas Roepstorff and Dina Friis at the reception after the defense.

Andreas Roepstorff and Dina Friis at the reception after the defense.

Not one to waste time, Dina has started a PhD project on ‘user-driven innovation in Virtual Worlds’ at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.

In her PhD project she will consider Viral Marketing. Generally people try hard to avoid advertisements using e.g. spam filters and ad-blockers. Yet at the same time many of these are willing to forward commercials to their whole network of contacts.

Dina’s starting point is to question the interests of the users that spreads these messages, objects and advertisements voluntarily.

VKS Plenary meeting: Ethics in E-research

In the course of the day, 24 scholars from all three location of the Virtual Knowledge Studio discussed the issue of ethics in their research. The day ended with a lecture from Maria Bakardjieva.

Among other themes, the nature of labour in doing e-research was raised, as were particular challenges in establishing and maintaining an identity as researcher when doing research in mediated settings. Who counts as a researcher, and for whom should research count were also recurring topics.

One goal for the day was to share experiences of ethical practices in our work, and to reflect on the various resources we draw on when dealing with ethical concerns.

Dilemmas were welcomed…

Friction between ways of working, between expectations of research partners (both other researchers or ‘subjects’ – who may sometimes more appropriately be considered as authors), and between traditions or habits and new settings for our work, seemed to be an emerging theme. While not particularly comfortable, friction indicates important moments and can produc new insights.

Participants to the plenary were happy to share stories and insights from such frictions. We want to return to these issues in the autumn as this is an emerging topic for discussion within the Netherlands.

All comments very welcome.

Ethics 2.0

The Virtual Knowledge Studio is pleased to announce that Maria Bakardjieva (University of Calgary) will be holding a public lecture on Wednesday 11 June, from 4-6pm.

The title of the lecture is Ethics 2.0: Balancing Privacy, Publicity and Prudence.

The lecture will be held at the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences, UvA, Prins Hendrikkade 189, Amsterdam. Here is a link to a map.

The lecture will be followed by a reception.

Maria Bakardjieva is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Communication and Culture, University of Calgary, Canada. She holds a doctorate in Sociology from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and a doctorate in Communication from Simon Fraser University, Canada. She is the author of Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life (2005, Sage) and co-editor of How Canadians Communicate (2004, 2007, University of Calgary Press). Her research has examined Internet use practices across different social and cultural context with an emphasis on the ways in which users understand and appropriate the communication possibilities offered by the new medium. She has also published on the topics of online community, e-learning and research ethics, including an article together with Andrew Feenberg, called ‘Involving the Virtual Subject’, Ethics and Information Technology 2: 233-40 (2001).

Celebrating the KNAW’s 200th Anniversary

We marked this anniversary with an installation presented by the VKS at the 8 May celebration at the Beurs van Berlage. The installations was developed around the work entitled Poser, by Constant Dullaart.

The installation articulated a fascination with social interaction and the possibilities of digital and networked media that is shared by the VKS and Dullaart. It emphasized practice and performance in relation to digital media, to social roles and to cultural rules.

In this installation, group photos, retrieved via Flickr were projected in a studio setting in such a way that the artist (and numerous participants to the evening) attempted to take on roles in these images.

This project was aimed at exploring new forms of interactions and of communication about the work we do at the VKS. Unlike a paper, a publication or even a poster session, this was very much an ‘event’, a concentrated period of interaction around the technological infrastructure of the installation and around the social gathering of the employees of the KNAW at the Beurs. This intensity was quite distinct from the usual way of communicating around our work, much more like a performance than the usual scientific communication. This made for an unforgettable evening, which left me with new insights about what we are doing at the studio and about various unsuspected talents of colleagues (there are some budding actors, talk show hosts and roadies in this building). Oh, and also with an aversion to the colour green, which I had unwisely been planning to wear.

This event came together through the generous contributions of Constant Dullaart, Dafna Maimon, Jeannette Haagsma, Charles van den Heuvel and colleagues of the VKS and Trippenhuis.

Call for Participants

AoIR preconference workshop

The next international activity of the Virtual Ethnography Collaboratory will be a pre-conference workshop at Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Communities, Rethinking Place, to be held on 15 October 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The workshop is entitled In The Game: Ethnographic Relationships, Mediation and Knowledge. The aim of the workshop is to examine a core issue in ethnographic work, the ethnographic relationship, in terms of the specific challenges encountered by researchers who work mainly in and on mediated settings.

The workshop is organised by Anne Beaulieu (Virtual  Knowledge Studio, The Netherlands) Marinka Copier (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) and T.L. Taylor (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark), in collaboration with AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers).

More information about the scope of the event and various deadlines can be found on the VKS website.

What is this bag doing here?

A new project for the new year.

We will be using this space ethnographically.

Each month, we will ask one of our colleagues to reveal the contents of their bags.